Continuing Tales

Overlapping Spaces

A Marvel Movieverse Story
by Khilari

Part 34 of 37

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Overlapping Spacesl

Left alone with Birla, and shaky with adrenaline letdown, Jane decided to make coffee after all. Birla enjoyed it without breaking anything, and they went to look for a SHIELD agent they could ask about getting to New Mexico. And let them know why. The latter got them handed up the tiers of bureaucracy until Hill said they'd take care of their transportation, but could she ask Birla a few questions for their files.

Birla agreed to this, and Jane wandered back to her laboratory. Erik was standing by the tesseract, apparently in communion with it, and Jane went over and tapped him on the shoulder. 'Hey. ...I made coffee.'

'Sound good,' Erik answered, rather absently, before looking away from the tesseract and smiling at her. 'I take it those two left.'

'Thor's taking Loki home,' she said. 'Birla's still around - I don't know if you saw Birla.'

'I don't think so. Is she getting a lift back with you, then?'

'Yes.' Jane handed him the cup. Instead of having a second one herself, she thought she might reheat her hot chocolate. 'She's one of Loki's... counselors. Although most of what she specifically does is head up the people keeping an eye on things when he's out in semi-public.'

'Asgardian counselling seems pretty effective given the difference between this and last time,' he said, nodding thanks at her for the coffee.

Jane smiled wryly and tried not to feel nervous. 'That's... a good reminder. Especially considering that was him panicking.'

'You helped, I think,' he said, adding evenly, 'you seemed pretty close.'

Here we go. 'I've ended up spending a lot more time with him than I'd have expected.' She pushed her hair back. 'Okay, I wasn't initially expecting to spend any. He's - a friend. Which remains a fairly disconcerting thought sometimes. Thor told me I might see him around the palace and then I ran into him in the library.'

'Now why am I not surprised you were in the library?' Erik said wryly.

Jane's mouth quirked. 'It was actually the first time and I'd just discovered I couldn't read anything. He told me how to switch the language display in the books.'

'Which naturally endeared him to you.' Erik glanced at the guards. 'Let's go and sit down.'

Jane nodded and followed him back to the break room, where she microwaved her hot chocolate mug and then sat down on the couch. 'That time,' she said quietly, 'he ended up losing his temper with me and Birla used a safeguard they had set up, to put him to sleep. I think I ended up going over to talk to him the next time because... he looked embarrassed about it.' She looked into her mug, biting her lip. 'It's not like I think it was an excuse.' For himself or her, she wondered. 'But he was really messed up and it turns out he's - actually really young. In the sense of barely a legal adult.'

'I did notice the first part. Not so much the second. I guessed he was quite young, but not that.' Erik shook his head.

'Age of majority is a thousand. I gather he spent his thousand-and-first birthday with the Chitauri.'

Erik winced. 'I feel like a fool pitying him after being brainwashed. But even when I was I could see he was scared out of his mind.'

'I keep feeling like I'm betraying you by liking him,' Jane said, too fast, and then curled her fingers over her mouth. It wasn't as if Erik was likely to have a better solution to that and it didn't seem fair to tell him, but it was too late now. 'And I think he still doesn't quite get what was wrong with that.' Even if he didn't appreciate Malekith throwing around mind magic.

'I'd be less worried about what he did to me than what he did to most of Manhattan.'

Jane winced. 'Fair point.' And yet.

'He's not a safe person to be around.' Erik looked at her seriously. 'I don't know what happened today, and it went better than I could have expected, but he still got you involved in something that could have been nasty.'

'Today was definitely weird,' Jane said with a sigh, trying to figure out how much of it to explain. Part of it was genuinely Loki's fault. Part of it was, well, she really wished she hadn't taken him to talk to Malekith. On the other hand, the fact that potentially malevolent elves could stroll into Asgard as they pleased wasn't anything to do with him, and that seemed to be an ongoing hazard. Actually, she supposed they could do it on Earth, too, even if they didn't seem to be making a habit of it. 'Basically, Loki isn't supposed to be able to do magic right now.' She raised a hand before Erik could point out that that didn't seem to be going well. 'Which was working fine except they didn't account for, um, an elf sneaking into his room, undermining that, and convincing him something dire was going to happen to Asgard if he didn't act.'

Erik was momentarily speechless, and then shook his head. 'An elf. Of course.' He pinched the bridge of his nose and sighed. 'Goes with the Norse god thing. I wouldn't have expected him to be trying to defend Asgard.'

'It surprised me at first, but he's actually pretty attached to it.'

'I guess it's just as well they want him back then.'

Jane finished her hot chocolate and went to rinse out the mug, taking Loki's abandoned one with her to the sink. 'I know what he's done. Well, presumably not all of it, but...' She watched the brown foam swirl down the drain. 'His family, Thor's family and their friends, they're looking at it as the past two years out of a thousand, literally, with somebody they knew and trusted. Not that they aren't taking it seriously - he's restrained and watched and going through therapy - but you see what I mean. And when I'm in Asgard it's easy to go along with that.'

'And it's safe enough for them to think like that when they're as strong as he is. Stronger, in Thor's case. But we're weaker than him and he doesn't have the best attitude towards humans.' He came over to rinse his own mug and then put his hand on Jane's shoulder. 'Even the worst breakdowns among humans don't usually level cities.'

'I know...' She rubbed the wrist Loki had towed her by, a little sore but not visibly bruised. 'He does know there's something wrong with him, and he's honestly trying to get better. He's still volatile - not nearly as much, though.' He'd been keeping his temper very well, lately. 'And there are some worrying ethical problems that I'm not totally sure are new, but he's trying.' A pause. 'And you notice he didn't actually hurt anybody, this time.'

'I noticed. And he could have done easily enough. It's hard to figure out how I feel about him when all my first impressions were formed while I didn't have a choice about liking him.' He put the rinsed out mug down and walked back over to the chair. 'Although that should be reason enough not to like him.'

'Yeah. I know.' Jane came back to trash the eggs and wash that plate, mostly for something to do. 'So would the giant robot attack, honestly.' Although that had been distant enough not to qualify as the same kind of first impression.

'That too.' Erik looked up at the ceiling. 'While it was happening it was almost like he was a postdoc I was mentoring. I felt like I should be looking after him, helping him achieve his goals. Then it wore off and I realised, oh yes, mass murder and world domination are bad things.' He snorted. 'And I thought chasing wormholes was the craziest thing I'd ever help someone do.'

She briefly considered telling him she thought she could build one and then discarded the idea because, no, this was not the time. 'He's impressed that you built the shutoff in spite of everything,' she said. 'Something about it should have been impossible for multiple reasons. I think - not just the mind control, but the tesseract itself wanting to be active. It was ecstatic about going somewhere today.' She grimaced a little at herself. She hadn't started off meaning to change the subject.

'She does like to be active,' Erik's voice was wistful. 'He was careless. Either he didn't understand how the mind control thing worked or didn't bother with the details. Once we were on his side he left too much to us. Clint was doing most of the planning, I was doing nearly all the building. But it just made us loyal to him, and...shut down our consciences.' He grimaced. 'I was still me. And I've never been that good at taking orders. I really was on his side, but he was trying to bring people through he was scared to death of, and I didn't believe they'd keep their promises as much as he did. As for the tesseract - she was pretty understanding about it, although I don't know if she really got why having an alien army on my planet would be a problem for me.'

That actually made a lot of sense. Thinking of Malekith taking the altered-loyalty approach instead of what he'd actually done made her stomach clench and she swallowed hard, then rapidly twice more and took a breath and held it and tried to think about anything else until her throat relaxed. The tesseract nudged against her mind, glowing and weirdly sympathetic and offering thoughts of folded space and starlight. Jane wondered if people got lost in it because it was trying to help. 'Their promises don't sound like they were very plausible to me, either. He probably didn't realise it made a difference not to have been stuck listening to them for a year. I'm glad the tesseract listened to you.' A small, wry smile. 'Today, too. I keep feeling guilty for bringing him here but it kind of cuts off second-guessing when I still don't have any better ideas.'

'Bruce was here, so even if he had been violent it might still have been the best choice.' Erik looked at her, concerned. 'Are you all right? You look more shaken now than when you were talking down a mad god.'

'You were here and could talk the tesseract into closing down properly,' Jane answered. This wasn't about her and she didn't want to whine about Malekith or try to explain elven politics she didn't understand or- Erik continued to look concerned and expectant, which was not really surprising, and Jane took a deep breath and admitted to herself that Erik would want to know about Malekith, and she didn't have to understand the politics. She yielded and went to sit down again, instead of leaning on the counter. 'I'm - one of the elves used a different kind of mind control on me and I was having a what-if moment.'

'Asgard seriously needs anti-elf security.' Erik leant forward to look her in the eyes, as if he might be able to see whether she'd recovered that way. 'Do you want to talk about it?'

A strangled giggle made its way out of her throat. 'They really, really do. They just walk in. Alfheim's supposed to be an ally, but they're not exactly monolithic and after their first visit while I was there, Loki gave me this very sincere, serious, deeply ironic warning that they didn't always see people from our universe as real people.' She rubbed her hands over her face again and sat back. 'I'm not sure whether it was a complicated scheme or started as a whim. They invited, sort of demanded, a diplomatic visit from Thor, and their ambassador asked me along and got politely and firmly shut down. And a few days later I realised - this is going to sound ridiculous.'

' already does. In a worrying way.'

Jane sighed. 'Obviously I had, ah, some legitimate mixed feelings about Loki, even though I did like him by that point. I'd been really grumpy and tactless about them since Thor left, and I knew that was a bad idea on a couple of levels but I couldn't seem to stop. I realised it wasn't me when he was trying to argue that I should move to Asgard and I didn't just get mad at him, I started fantasising about cutting his throat.'

'A lot of people would like him dead for pretty good reasons. But you're not really the type.' Erik looked sympathetic. 'It sounds disturbing, being made to think that way about a friend. Even if I don't think he's a good friend for you.'

'Even if I wanted somebody dead, I think I'd be disturbed if I daydreamed about their blood gushing over my hands.' Jane looked down at them for a moment, remembering the imagined sensation of it running red and icewater cold, and curled her fingers. 'Once I realised he was there, he wouldn't let me tell anybody or act any more suspiciously than I could help. It felt like having spiderwebs in my head. Sticky ones that wouldn't break. But I suddenly thought about if he'd managed to make me think I was loyal to him, instead...'

Erik put his hands over hers. 'Any kind of mind control's going to be disturbing. I'm guessing elves can't do the loyalty type. Or maybe they don't like the loopholes.'

'I don't know.' She took a deep breath, let it out on a sigh. 'As an assassination attempt it was completely impractical. As a way to be creepy and disruptive it worked pretty well and kind of led into today. And yes, Malekith's plotting scares me more than Loki being... freaked out but kind of protective.' Although considering Loki had once tried to destroy a planet under the impression it would protect his world and make Odin proud, possibly it shouldn't. Perhaps it was just as well she hadn't been thinking in those terms before.

'Protective. You realise he thought Earth would be safer under his rule? He has some odd ideas about protection.' Erik leant back. 'On the other hand, Loki is loyal, protective and deeply screwed up about how to apply them. Malekith just sounds like a complete bastard.'

'I think that sums it up.' Maybe Malekith had good points if you got to know him and he liked you, but Jane wasn't really inclined to explore the question.

'If Thor was still here I'd have a word with him about taking you on holiday and letting you get brainwashed.'

Jane snorted. 'I'm sure he'd like to have prevented it.' She paused and then looked up at him. 'It's actually been a really good vacation mostly. I had a whirlwind introduction to Asgardian culture and got to watch them fix the Bifrost.'

'Before befriending a criminal and getting brainwashed by elves.' Erik relented. 'It's good you had some fun. I'm sure you enjoyed the Bifrost part.'

'During,' Jane said, her sense of humour asserting itself a little. 'I spent a lot of extra time at the end of the Bifrost while Malekith was pushing at me, because Loki wouldn't go there.' Until he had. 'It actually took me a while to realise most of Asgard is in awe of Heimdall. He's very nice.'

'He watches the Bifrost then, like in the stories?'

She nodded. 'He stands on the Bifrost and activates the part of it that isn't always on. Mostly he watches other things. He's been keeping an eye on the Chitauri, lately, in case they come up with alternative travel arrangements. When people from Asgard are traveling, he usually looks out for them in case they get in trouble.'

'It's good to know someone is watching the Chitauri. SHIELD would probably like to hear about what he's seeing.'

'So far, it doesn't sound like they're doing much, but I'll ask about sending updates.' She paused. 'Want to hear more about the Bifrost? I think I could build a nonmagical version, but I might have to resort to trading on the SHIELD connection to wave a couple of materials engineering problems in front of Stark.' His last two biggest breakthroughs had been when he was about to die, but she assumed that couldn't be a requirement.

Erik looked decidedly interested at that. 'SHIELD would probably give you the moon if you'd promise them portals,' he said. 'Let's hear about it.'

...She wasn't actually sure what SHIELD would do with them, come to think of it. But she got up and went back to the lab with Erik to run through her ideas, with only the occasional grumble of, 'Of course I managed to get here without any of my notes,' and forgot to worry about it for a while.

They didn't have long enough to really make it through everything. Birla came back in, all too soon, with an agent who told them there were a couple of extra seats available on a flight with several SHIELD personnel being moved to New Mexico. Jane stood up and looked back at Erik. 'I'll see you in about another week, I guess.'

'Try not to do anything too alarming in the meantime,' Erik said. 'Aside from talking to Loki at all. I can't convince you to stay away from him, can I?'

She shook her head. 'He is a friend, weird situations and all.' Even though he'd controlled Erik, even though he'd attacked Earth, even though the SHIELD agents looking at her had probably lost friends or at least coworkers to him. She swallowed. 'But thanks for worrying. And for putting up with it.'

He squeezed her shoulder. 'Just take care of yourself.'

'I'll try.' She hugged him again, instead, and he patted her back. And she walked off alongside Birla to the plane.

Overlapping Spaces

A Marvel Movieverse Story
by Khilari

Part 34 of 37

<< Previous     Home     Next >>